PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Josh Ryan’s bid for a third straight Junior Boys’ Championship title is alive and well. So is Matthew Homer’s bid for Ryan redemption.
Add the collective desire of Keller Mulhern and Nathan Guertler to strike GAP gold, and the 108th Junior Boys’ Championship semifinals is alive and well with colorful characters chasing history.
Ryan, the No. 1 seed and looseleaf favorite, posted two victories Tuesday at Bala Golf Club (par 68, 5,306 yards) to gain the semifinals. He is looking to join Meredith M. Jack (1914-16) as the only individual to win the Junior Boys’ in three consecutive years.
Homer, who fell to Ryan in the semifinals a year ago, survived a harrowing duel with Llanerch Country Club’s Aidan Farkas to advance. In the semifinals, he’ll oppose Guertler, who ousted co-medalist Nicholas Werner of Huntsville Golf Club, 2&1.
Mulhern represents Ryan’s next Junior Boys’ obstacle. He defeated Jericho National Golf Club’s Christian Deussing, 2&1, in the quarterfinals. He and Ryan will square off at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow; the Guertler/Homer match will follow at 7:37 a.m.
“I definitely draw on [my past success],” Ryan, 18, of Norristown, Pa., said. “I draw on it, but I don’t really dwell on it. The past is the past. Right now, you have to focus on what you’re doing. You’re not always going to hit every shot perfect. You’ve got to be satisfied with the results and hit the next shot the best you can.”
Ryan isn’t the self-proclaimed stick to beat at Bala. He’s a self-effacing model of Junior Boys’ consistency.
“I give myself a lot of birdie looks,” Ryan, who will attend Liberty University in the fall, said. “I’m trying not to make a lot of mistakes. You’re not going to halve a hole with a bogey. You can’t make a bogey out here.”
Ryan made three bogeys at Bala Tuesday. He lost those holes. In the quarterfinals against Matthew Zerfass of Brookside Country Club of Allentown, Ryan, a member of The 1912 Club, evened matters with a birdie on No. 12 (par 4, 306 yards), where his drive caught the right greenside bunker. Ryan splashed out to four feet and converted the ensuing putt. He won No. 13 (par 3, 174 yards) by burying a 15-footer for par. The conversion amended a flared 8-iron. Ryan closed out Zerfass on No. 17 (par 4, 293 yards) with a birdie. He nearly drove the green; a chip-and-putt did the trick.
Mulhern will look to avenge his future Saint Joseph’s University teammate. The Whitford Country Club member is keenly aware of Ryan’s Junior Boys’ pedigree. It isn’t consuming his conscience.
“I’m focused on what I have to do than what he’s done or what he’s doing. I’m playing the course not as much as playing the opponent,” Mulhern, 18, of Exton, Pa., said.
The blueprints worked for Mulhern Tuesday. In a quarterfinals clash against a blazing Deussing, he moved to 1-up following a birdie on No. 12. Mulhern hit a lob wedge 86 yards to six feet. He denied a Deussing tie by converting a 10-foot, downhill slider for par on No. 16 (par 3, 97 yards). Mulhern earned a conceded par and a 2-up victory when his 15-yard chip on No. 18 (par 4, 362 yards) stopped inches from the hole.
“I just got to play my game. I’ve got to stick with the gameplan I set so far. I know where the good results happen. If you can put as many wedges in your hand as possible, good things happen,” Mulhern, a recent Malvern Prep graduate, said.
Good things continue to happen for Guertler at Bala. He failed to make it to Day Two in the Junior Boys’ Championship a year ago. Now the Merion Golf Club member is a win away from the Final.
“Last year I didn’t even make the First Flight, which was a little disappointing. I felt like I had something to prove. I’m happy I did that,” Guertler, 17, of Merchantville, N.J., said. “I put a little more work in. I want it more. I’m older and I can handle pressure a little bit better. Overall, I’ve become a more mature golfer.”
A tedious 1-up lead with four holes remaining screams pressure. Guertler quelled it by dropping a 12-foot downhill slider for par on No. 15 (par 4, 323 yards) to halve Werner, who missed a five-footer for birdie. Guertler birdied No. 16 after stopping a sand wedge five feet from the hole.
“I’ve become a pretty good pressure putter,” Guertler said. “I love feeling the pressure. It feels good in the moment. My attitude this year is just embrace the pressure. That’s a good word for it.”
Pressure, without question, stormed Homer’s headspace in the quarterfinals Tuesday. He trailed by four on No. 14 (par 4, 33 yards) tee. Then his drive hit a tree and seemingly disappeared.
“[The gallery] signaled out of bounds. They thought it was out of bounds. I hit a provisional,” Homer, 17, of Wilmington, Del., said. “When I got up there, the ball was not out of bounds. I was able to get to the front right of the green so I had a 25-yard chip. I hit it 12 feet short and curled in a putt. Aidan made bogey.
“If that ball went out of bounds, the match was over there. I got extremely fortunate on that hole and took advantage of it.”
Sure did. Homer won No. 15 with Farkas out of position. He hit a lob wedge to two feet for a conceded birdie and win on No. 16. He won No. 17 (par 4, 293 yards) with Farkas again out of position. Homer extended his good fortune by halving No. 18 with a nervy four-footer that bounced off the backboard and in.
“Good catch by the hole,” he said.
Momentum surging, Homer, a rising senior at The Tatnall School, bashed a drive on No. 1 (par 4, 336 yards), the first extra hole. He then knocked a wedge 42 yards to three feet for birdie and a handshake.
“It’s huge, especially thinking that I had no chance on the 14th hole,” Homer, 17, of Wilmington, Del., said. “It’s really hard to get to the semifinals. It takes a lot of good golf. I’m happy I’m to do it in back-to-back years.”
Round of 16
Before his photo finish against Mulhern, Deussing joined Wilmington Country Club’s Anthony Ciconte in a joint display of fine shotmaking. He, with the usual match play concessions, carded the stroke-play equivalent of 4 under to Ciconte’s 3 under.
“That was the best match I’ve ever been a part of,” Deussing said. “Anthony’s a great player. He got up-and-down from everywhere. I never played with or against Anthony before. But after the first couple of holes, I knew that birdies were going to win this, not pars. He played amazing.”
Here’s an astonishing anomaly: an ace to merely tie a match. Deussing carded his first career hole-in-one on No. 16 (par 3, 97 yards) with a sand wedge. The spectacular shot came after Ciconte stopped a sand wedge three feet from the hole location, an acknowledged gimme.
“There was nothing I could’ve done about that obviously. My hat’s off to him,” Ciconte, 18, of Wilmington, Del., said.
“It took me about three minutes to settle myself before I decided to even hit the tee shot [on No. 17],” Deussing added.
Ciconte and Deussing traded birdies on No. 17 (par 4, 293 yards). The former knocked a lob wedge 90 yards to seven feet. Deussing, addressing a lie in the right rough, lifted a lob wedge 90 yards to 15 feet above a front-right hole location. He buried a 15-foot slider. Undeterred, Ciconte examined his line and drained his seven-footer for birdie.
Bala’s closer (par 4, 362 yards) unbuttoned an otherwise kempt Ciconte, a recent Tatnall School graduate. His gap wedge from 125 yards found the penalty area.
“I had to hit something low and I skulled it. That was the end,” Ciconte, who will attend West Virginia University in the fall, said.
Deussing, for good measure, closed Ciconte’s curtain by sinking an otherworldly 40-footer for birdie. A sand wedge from 108 yards set up the trying uphill attempt.
“I didn’t even realize what [my score was]. I was thinking, ‘I need to make a birdie to not lose the hole,’” he said.
“We both putted out of our minds. I probably made 200 feet of putts,” Ciconte added. “The ball-striking was pretty good. I played great the whole round.”
Junior Boys’ Championship
The Junior Boys’ Championship is the premier Major in the GAP Junior Division. It is open to members of a GAP Member Club 14-18 years of age who have not started their college education and who hold a handicap index of 14.4 or lower. Sixteen players qualify for match play; an additional 16 advance into the event’s First Flight.
The Junior Boys’ Champion is awarded the Peg Burnett Trophy, named in honor of the Association’s Executive Secretary from 1951-76. Ms. Burnett was an ardent Junior golf supporter who emphasized sportsmanship and respect for the game. “I was very strict about checking the rule book. I didn’t make the rules, but since they are there, you have to abide by them.”
Celebrating Amateur Golf since 1897, GAP, also known as the Golf Association of Philadelphia, is the oldest regional or state golf association in the United States. It serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. The Association’s 300 Member Clubs and 80,000 individual members are spread across the Eastern half of Pennsylvania and parts of Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey. The GAP’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.
1. Joshua Ryan, The 1912 Club d. 9. Matthew Zerfass, Brookside CC of Allentown, 2&1
4. Keller Mulhern, Whitford CC 5. Christian Deussing, Jericho National GC, 2-up
10. Nathan Guertler, Merion GC d. 2. Nick Werner, Huntsville GC, 2&1
3. Matthew Homer, Wilmington CC d. 6. Aidan Farkas, Llanerch CC, 19 holes
9. Jack Orr, Little Mill CC d. 16. John Curran, Chester Valley GC, 5&4
4. Kevin Lydon, Commonwealth National GC d. 5. Ryan D’Ariano, Penn Oaks GC, 3&2
7. James Ulsh, Carlisle CC d. 15. Kevin Lafond, Blue Bell CC, 2&1
11. Ethan Martin, GAP Youth on Course d. 3. Tyler Debusschere, The Springhaven Club, 1-up
Round of 16
1. Joshua Ryan, The 1912 Club d. 16. Eli Shah, Penn Oaks GC, 3&2
9. Matthew Zerfass, Brookside CC of Allentown d. Davis Conaway, Fieldstone GC, 3&1
4. Keller Mulhern, Whitford CC d. Michael Lugiano, Huntsville GC, 4&2
5. Christian Deussing, Jericho National GC d. 12. Anthony Ciconte, Wilmington CC, 1-up
2. Nick Werner, Huntsville GC d. 15. Evan Barbin, Chesapeake Bay GC, 3&1
10. Nathan Guertler, Merion GC d. 7. Carson Thompson, Laurel Creek CC, 4&3
3. Matthew Homer, Wilmington CC d. Seiji Sako, McCall Golf Club, 4&3
6. Aidan Farkas, Llanerch CC d. 11. Tyler Leyden, North Hills CC, 3&2
16. John Curran, Chester Valley GC d. 1. Sean Kelly, Bucknell GC, 1-up
9. Jack Orr, Little Mill CC 8. D. Jack Homer, Wilmington CC, 2&1
4. Kevin Lydon, Commonwealth National GC d. Sean Curran, Merion GC, 3&2
5. Ryan D’Ariano, Penn Oaks GC d. 12. Daniel Flaherty, Rolling Green GC, 5&3
15. Kevin Lafond, Blue Bell CC d. 2. Christian Matt, Cedarbrook CC, 3&2
7. James Ulsh, Carlisle CC d. 10. Scott Hughes, Cedarbrook CC, 3&2
3. Tyler Debusschere, The Springhaven Club d. 14. Darren Nolan, Cedarbrook CC, 4&3
11. Ethan Martin, GAP Youth on Course d. 6. Matthew Normand, Laurel Creek CC, 19 holes
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